Agnès Ntumba remembers the day her husband and seven children fled the violence that took over their village in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“I saw people being killed. They were coming to kill us, and we had to escape,” Ntumba said.
About a year ago, her village of Tshilundu Ndibunu had become the next place among many to be terrorized by ethnic and political violence. The fighting, which began in August 2016, when Kamuina Nsapu, a local militia group, and national security forces clashed, incited ongoing battles in the Kasai region. The crisis has forced 1.4 million people from their homes, including 5,000 Mennonites.
Together with her family and others from the village, Ntumba ran for the bush, where they walked two days to reach safety. Now her family is staying in the Kabwela area of Lomami province with a host family, because there are no formal camps for displaced people. With the additional nine from Ntumba’s family, 20 people live together.
“We eat once a day. It is not enough,” Ntumba said in February when she spoke with Mulanda Jimmy Juma, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) representative. “We are suffering,” she added, speaking not just of her family but of the many displaced people in Kabwela.
This spring, Mennonites in Congo are responding to the suffering of displaced people there and in the cities of Kikwit and Tshikapa by distributing food packages of flour, beans, oil and salt that will feed 4,000 people—830 households—for three months. They also have begun to distribute 1,000 dignity kits to girls and women, and school supplies to 100 children in Kabwela.
Three Congolese Mennonite denominations are working in partnership with MCC to organize and carry out the distributions with supplies funded by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, MCC and numerous Anabaptist organizations around the world.
Communauté Evangélique Mennonite carried out the first of the three distributions to 180 households in Kabwela on March 23 and 24, 2018.
Ntumba and her family were among the recipients. She received food in the morning, and her family was sitting in a circle, sharing a pot of beans that very afternoon, Juma said. Most families hadn’t eaten beans in a while, so they cooked them instead of making the more common bedia, a thick porridge made of maize flour, he noted.
“We are going to change how many times to eat,” Ntumba said in a focus group that met to evaluate the distribution. “We will be eating in the morning and evening too. Before, we were eating once a day. We believe that our life will change with this aid.”
According to Juma, many displaced families have never received assistance from humanitarian organizations before, depending instead on other vulnerable people to survive.
“This support is important because it helps to reduce exploitation and tension in the local communities. Having food gives dignity to displaced people,” Juma said.
Without food, displaced people sometimes are forced to work in the fields all day for less than 25 cents, and they endure insults and mistreatment, which lead to disputes, he explained.
On April 3, supplies for the next distributions were on the ground in Kikwit and Tshikapa, where 10-year-old Kanku Ngalume is staying. In February, he told Juma, through tears, that he fled from his village when his parents and siblings were all beheaded. He followed a group of people who were all running for their lives and ended up in Tshikapa.
“I am alone here,” he said. “Mama Agnes [another displaced person] is the one taking care of me. If she has food, we eat. If she doesn’t have, we don’t eat. We eat only once a day in the evening,” the youngster said.
Communauté Mennonite au Congo is carrying out the distribution in Tshikapa for 400 families. Communauté des Eglises de Frères will distribute food to 250 families in Kikwit.
Agnès Ntumba, second from right in a blue shirt, and her family share a pot of beans that she made from supplies that were part of a food distribution she received earlier that day. (MCC photo by Mulanda Jimmy Juma)
Agnès Ntumba carries a sack of corn flour and oil she received during a distribution by Communauté Evangélique Mennonite in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (MCC photo by Mulanda Jimmy Juma)
Kanku Ngalamulume, 10, lost his entire family to violence in Kasai. In Tshikapa, where Kanku lives, Congolese Mennonites are distributing food packages of maize flour, beans, oil and salt, and hygiene supplies for women. (MCC photo by Mulanda Jimmy Juma)
Jean Felix Cimbalanga, a representative of Communauté Evangélique Mennonite in the Democratic Republic of Congo, explains how a food distribution will work to a group of displaced Congolese people. The distribution in the Kabwela area of Lomami Province took place on March 23 and 24, 2018, with food and hygiene supplies provided by MCC and numerous Anabaptist organizations. (MCC photo by Mulanda Jimmy Juma)